‘Most Sacred’ of Shiva’s Abodes? Why Ujjain’s Mahakal Mandir Holds Special Significance in Hinduism

Prime Minister Narendra Modic on Tuesday, the first phase of Mahakaleshwar Corridor in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh inaugurated the ambitious Rs 856 crore project to the country.

Before he revealed the big one horrifying covered with strands of sacred red threads, amid Vedic chants to mark the inauguration, the prime minister performed puja with rituals at the famous Mahakaleshwar temple, where one of the 12 jyotirlingas of the Hindu deity Shiva.

This is why the Mahakaleshwar Temple or the Mahakal Mandir has a special significance in Hinduism:

What is the meaning of ‘Mahakal’ or ‘Mahakaleshwar’?

The divinity associated with the holy city of Ujjain is centered around the Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga placed in the temple also known as Mahakal Mandir. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, who is believed to be the god of time and death. His name is Mahakaleshwarcomposed of the two meanings of the word bald – time and death.

This one jyotirlingas, or shrines, are considered the most sacred abodes of Shiva. According to the Puranas, the Hindu god pierced the world like an endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga. Except the Mahakaleshwar jyotirlinga in Ujjain, the other 11 jyotirlinga sites include Somnath and Dwarka’s Nageswar in Gujarat; Mallikarjuna at Srisailam in Andhra Pradesh; Omkareshwar in Madhya Pradesh; Kedarnath in Uttarakhand; Bhimashankar, Triambakeshwar and Aurangabad’s Grishneshwar in Maharashtra; Viswanath in Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh; Baidyanath Temple in Jharkhand’s Deoghar; and Rameshwar in Rameswaram in Tamil Nadu.

Located on the banks of the Shipra River, which is considered sacred, this temple in Ujjain is one of the most sacred Shiva temples in the country. Shiva, the Hindu god of time and death, is known to reign supreme in Ujjain, according to local legends that refer to him as the chief deity of the city. Therefore, the life of the city and its people are dominated by the essence of Mahakali signifies its connection to ancient Hindu traditions.

The city also has other famous and ancient temples, and one of the oldest bad ghats, Ram Ghat, is one of the sites for the Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage held every 12 years.

Why is the ‘Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga’ most prominent?

The Puranas and other sacred scriptures in Hinduism vividly describe the glory of this jyotirlinga and it is also mentioned in many ancient Indian texts, including a poetic text, Meghadutamcomposed by Kalidasa in the 4th century.

Many believe that the lingam (another term used for horrifying) in Ujjain is swayambhu, meaning it occurs naturally or even “manifests itself”. Also known as dakshinamukhithis is the only one jyotirlinga south, while the other 11 face east. This is known as a unique feature associated with the tantric traditions of Shiva worship in Hinduism, and is found only in Mahakaleshwar.

According to a report in The Indian Expressthe horrifying faces south, as the direction of death is believed to be south. A local legend says that a Ujjain king named Chandrasena was a Shiva devotee and so strong was his devotion that the god in his Mahakali shape and destroyed its enemies, according to the report. Shiva then agreed to reside in the city, at the request of his devotees, and became the chief deity.

What is the significance of the Mahakal Temple location?

Popularly known as the Greenwich of India, Ujjain is geographically located where the Prime Meridian of Longitude (Madhyarekha) and the Tropic of Cancer (Karkavrutta) intersect. Many religious places in the city are somehow connected with time. Ujjain’s connection to astronomy thus shows how the Shiva Temple here is dedicated to Mahakalithe god of time.

However, it is difficult to say when the temple first came into existence. It can be attributed to the prehistoric period as the Puranas say it was first established by Prajapita Brahma. According to the official website of Mahakaleshwar Temple, there is a reference to the appointment of Kumarasena, a prince, by King Chanda Pradyota in the 6th century BC to ensure the law and order of Mahakal Temple. References in several ancient Indian texts describe the temple as beautiful with its foundation and platform built of stone while the temple rested on wooden pillars, according to the website.

According to available information, the present form of the five-storey temple was built by Maratha General Ranoji Shinde in 1734.

What is the tradition of ‘Bhasm Aarti’?

Many who visit Ujjain and its holy places count the unique ritual of Bhasm Aarti in Mahakaleshwar Temple as one of the main attractions. The aarti starts at 4 a.m. daily and can be attended by anyone. It is preceded by an extensive one-hour process in which the idol is washed and decorated, and a face of “divinity” is drawn on it.

The shivling at Mahakaleshwar Temple in Ujjain is bathed and decorated in an elaborate ritual that precedes the unique Bhasm Aarti. (Image: News18)

With chants of Har har Mahadevi and Om namah shivaya ringing in the air accompanied by the clatter of bells, the aarti becomes a divine experience. According to the official website of the Madhya Pradesh Tourist Board, Bhasm Aarti was performed with ashes from the first funeral pyre to be cremated at night in the past – another Hindu ritual associated with death. But now this practice has changed and fresh ashes are prepared from cow dung.

The website mentions that the process begins with the ritual bath of the horrifying. It is smeared with offerings such as curd, honey, sandalwood paste and then cleaned with milk and water. Decorated with flowers and the leaves of the bell tree, which is dear to Shiva, it is also offered to his consort, Hindu goddess Durga or Parvati, during pushpanjali during her worship.

The most anticipated part of the whole process is when the idol is veiled by a cloth, after which the chief priest swings an ash-filled sack onto it. The entire sanctum sanctorum is filled with clouds of dust covering the ashes.

During the aarti, no one is allowed to enter the sanctum sanctorum, but devotees can watch the entire process through a screen projection. Anyone coming for the aarti must adhere to a strict dress code of dhoti for men and sarees for women, according to the official MP tourism website.

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